How the Space Force Thinks About Competition With Russia and China
Washington is taking competitor efforts to militarize space very seriously.
There are many advanced space weapons that are either already here or which are just around the corner. These include lasers, hypersonic missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), surveillance and attack drones flying above the atmosphere, anti-satellite weapons and even satellite-fired weapons themselves.
“The space domain is competitive, congested and contested. Our competitors, most notably China and Russia have militarized space with weapons in the domain, which requires us to proactively be engaged to protect and defend our interests there,” Gen James Dickinson, Commander, U.S. Space Command, told The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in a video interview. “That proactive engagement must be on our terms, so that we can operate fully and freely in the domain when, where and how we need to. That, of course, is the classic definition of domain superiority.”
Russia is reported to be developing satellite-launched weapons, and both Russia and China are known to be rapidly advancing hypersonic missile technology engineered to skim along the upper portions of the earth’s atmosphere at five-times the speed of sound. In addition, China has been test-firing anti-satellite weapons for more than a decade. These circumstances, combined with the added premium now placed upon space-based command and control and warfare networking, makes the space domain an expected battleground in future warfare.
Dickinson spelled out a three-step strategic approach which he plans to unfold in coming days, a plan intended to propel the Space Force into its next phase of warfighting preparations. His first tenet is, not surprisingly, to “understand the competition,” a concept based upon the realization that enemy weapons in space are fast becoming much more serious and threatening to the successful execution of U.S. Space Command operations.
The second principle outlined by Dickinson is command and control, an area showing great amounts of movement in recent months. For instance, the Pentagon is building and deploying a massive amount of Medium and Low Earth Orbit satellites to expedite sensor networking, continuous connectivity and add built-in resilience and redundancy to space operations. Everything from moving digital maps in armored combat vehicles to the precision targeting path and flight trajectory of air-launched bombs and guidance technology for anti-ship missiles, all rely upon space.
Greater numbers of smaller, faster, high through-put Medium and Low Earth Orbit Satellites will enable a more continuous track upon threats traveling up into and through space by quickly handing off sensor data from one radar envelope or field of view to another, enabling a more continuous track upon a threat which is less segmented or potentially disjointed. The addition of these satellites also aligns with the Air Force’s long standing space warfare strategy to build in redundancy and disaggregation to sustain functionality in the event that one node was destroyed or compromised.
The third area of focus, Dickinson said, was to foster and sustain key relationships with allies, as space is global, if not beyond, in scope. Threat information or target coordination will, for instance, need to be shared among North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, particularly in light of the growing number of space traveling and intercontinental weapons such as ICBMs.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.